“Children have the right to survival, children have a right not to be abused, they have a right to care, they have a right to be educated – to be sent to school, children have rights, a whole lot of rights just like adults…a right to have a name, a right to an identity…their right to a family, if they don’t have a family, the State should provide a family,” says Director of the Child Care and Protection Agency (CCPA), Ms. Ann Greene.
The Agency was created pursuant to the Child Care and Protection Agency Act of 2009 with the mandate to ensure that the rights of children are respected and honoured by their parents and caregivers. The CCPA, which falls under the ambit of the Ministry of Social Protection, has offices in eight of the Ten Administrative Regions of Guyana.
According to the Act, a child is “a person under the age of eighteen years and shall also include a person who attains the age of eighteen years while under care or protection in accordance with any law or is, because of some disability, certified by the Director as being in need of care or protection…”
The Agency also gets its powers from several other Acts of Parliament such as the Childcare and Development Services Act of 2009, Sexual Offences Act of 2010 and the Custody, Contact, Guardianship and Maintenance Act of 2011.
In addition to the Child Care and Protection Agency Act, these provisions of the laws of Guyana allows the Agency to adequately address issues of adoption, child neglect and abuse, alternative care/foster care and ensuring that childcare facilities such as day-care centres meet the prescribed standards and requirements for the safety and proper growth and development of children.
Increased intervention through reports
In 2018, there were over of 4,900 reported cases of child abuse; 2,400 of those cases stemming from neglect. As of January this year, the agency received over 400 reports of child abuse, 122 of which were of a sexual nature. According to the statistics, 60% of child neglect occurs when a child is between the ages of 4 – 13 years old, while 83% of child sexual abuse occurs when a child is between the ages of 8-18 years old.
However, Director of the CCPA said that reports are just the tip of the iceberg. “Child abuse is a hidden crime and particularly, sexual abuse is behind closed doors and some of the victims, they literally do not have a voice to report abuse, meaning many children are being abused and they can’t report. So even if we do get a report, that’s the tip of the iceberg” she said.
She explained that an increase in reports of child abuse does not mean an increase in the incidence of the offence, but rather, it is the result of the work that the Agency has been doing to get more persons to recognise what constitutes child abuse and report such cases to the Agency.
Ms. Greene said too, that an objective of the Agency is not to have persons view children as miniature adults, but rather, as children who need protection from adults who are inclined to abuse them.
Recognising that a healthy family-life provides the best environment for a child’s development, the Agency has been conducting capacity building sessions with parents while seeking out support from volunteers and various religious groups in an effort to expand its partnership programme.
“We are here to help parents, we are here to provide the support that parents need to care for their children. We help to build the capacity of parents…we have programmes going to help parents deal with their personal dysfunction so that they can be a better parent. So, there is help, but the thing is we have to get parents to co-operate,” Ms. Greene said.
She further stated that the last thing the Agency wants to do, is to remove a child from their family. According to the Director, partnering with parents and the community is pivotal to the success of the CCPA. “This work here can’t be done in isolation, child protection work is never done in isolation, so we have a big partnership programme going on where we want to partner with individuals and groups at the community level, even faith-based organisations, because together we could help families and could help children,” she said.
Early Childhood Development
Ensuring proper care and development in a child’s earliest years is also an important aspect of the work of the Agency. In 2016, through the Early Childhood Unit, the department launched its Childcare and Development Services Regulations, to monitor the institutional observance of child rights. As a result, the Agency has a group of Registration and Licensing Officers that go out and monitor childcare facilities to ensure that they are meeting and maintaining the minimum standards set out in the regulations so that they can be issued with licences.
Executive Officer of Early Childhood Development, Ms. Lavern Thorne explained that “the regulations stipulate some of the things that childcare providers have to do in order to ensure that children are given quality care. There are things in terms of the environment, what the environment has to entail, we are talking about the amount of space that the children need, how caregivers should treat with babies…For instance, if you are caring for a baby, a baby should not just be put there with a feeding bottle and be left alone. Babies need attention, they need to be held, they need for you to communicate with them while [they are] feeding… Children need the maximum amount of care and love, attention, touching and all of those things” she said.
In 2018, the Agency issued a total of 131 licenses to childcare facilities. Additionally, it launched its “Back to Basics” reading programme, in an effort to increase parent-infant interaction while encouraging healthy development.
“A baby needs to hear your voice, 80% of that child’s brain from birth to three, is developed. So, if you’re not communicating, you’re not talking with the baby, you’re not doing the things that you’re required to do, the child will be left neglected and the brain will not develop the way it should be developed. So, we encourage parents, talk to your baby, sing to your baby, start reading,” Ms Thorne said.
Institutionalisation: A last option
Added to its proactive approach to the protection of children, the CCPA has the responsibility of ensuring that children who are wards of the State, are safe. As such, in keeping with its mandate to provide institutional care, the CCPA will be opening two group homes this year. This initiative stemmed directly from the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Bill which was passed in 2018.
This new Act now minimalises the criminalisation of young people by striking out former offences, like truancy and referring those cases to CCPA. Ms. Greene says that these homes will accommodate no more than six persons, allowing them to sit at a family table every night.
Although the State is responsible for placing persons in institutional care, it is by no means a permanent option for the CCPA and as a result, adoption becomes a more desirable alternative. Manager of the Adoption Department, Ms. Kaycina Jardine says that the Agency’s policy is to have children grow up in families.
“We wouldn’t want children to be in institutions or any alternative care for a lengthy period; it’s not necessary for that to happen and adoption is a way where children can be placed in a permanent family to be cared for because we know for children to have healthy development, one of their rights is to a family,” Ms. Jardine said.
With adoption however, certain criteria must be met in order to guarantee the child’s welfare.
“We will have to do police checks, we will have to do background checks, there are medicals that are involved, references of course and we have to check the environment [in which] this child is going to be. So, be it biological relatives or non-biological persons who want to begin a process for adoption, those are things that we have to look at because we need to ensure that where this child is going to be placed is secure for that child and it’s in the best interest of the child,” Ms. Jardine said.
In 2018, the CCPA facilitated a total of 80 adoptions, 51 of which were local while 29 were international.
The Government of Guyana prioritises the care of those who cannot yet care for themselves and is fully invested in and committed to, the stable and nurturing upbringing of all of Guyana’s children.